Blues follow similar script with another first-round playoff exit

News-DemocratApril 29, 2014 

It was another frustrating end to a season that held much promise for the St. Louis Blues.

A team that was at or near the top of the NHL standings throughout much of the regular season faltered just before the playoffs, losing six in a row.

That pushed the Blues into a first-round playoff matchup with defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago instead of a potentially lesser opponent.

And while the Blues generated plenty of excitement during two straight overtime victories to start the series, they followed that up with four straight losses to the Blackhawks and suffered through another painful first-round exit.

Perhaps even more painful was going into the third period of Game 6 tied 1-1 Sunday, only to watch the Blackhawks erupt for two quick goals and tack on two more in a 5-1 series-clinching victory.

"It doesn't matter who you are, when you lose it's (bad)," Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "We knew the series wasn't going to be easy, they're a good team and had their successes recently. It just goes down the tube and it's all for nothing now."

Bouwmeester joined the Blues in a trade last spring and was part of a first-round loss to the Kings. Like this year, the Blues won the first two only to lose four straight.

In the NHL, teams winning the first two games of a playoff series win that series approximately 86 percent of the time.

The Blues have bucked that trend by losing two straight series after winning the first two games. They have done this despite having won 11 straight series in their history after winning the first two games before the playoff exits of 2013 and 2014.

The Blues are 4-12 in their last 16 playoff games and have dropped eight straight on the road. Their last trip to the conference finals was in 2001 and they've made it past the first round only twice since then.

During a second-round sweep against the Kings in 2012, four straight losses to the Kings last season and Chicago's four straight wins this spring, the Blues scored a total of 20 goals in those 12 games.

That's nowhere near enough offense.

"We can talk about one play here, one play there," Blues captain David Backes said. "When it was on our stick, we need to get the job done and we didn't get the job done -- and we're going home early."

Did the first-round loss to the Blackhawks seem any different than the 2013 loss to the Kings?

"It doesn't get any easier," Bouwmeester said. "Every year you don't make the playoffs or lose in the first round, or you lose, period, it's just a wasted opportunity. We had, up until the last week or two of the regular season ... we had a fantastic year.

"We had it turned around in the first couple of games, and then had a couple close ones here, a close one back home and then for two periods played pretty well (Sunday)."

But two periods wasn't enough against the powerful Blackhawks.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was asked about the future for the nucleus of his team.

"I'm more concerned with what we poured into this series," Hitchcock said. "We poured a lot into it. I mean this was six games and it felt like nine games for both teams. I'm sure Joel feels the same way. It was a long, hard fought series and both teams poured a lot into it.

"The dam bust here at the end, but I don't know, that's stuff for Doug (Armstrong). I'm not going to get into it."

When the injury crunch hit the Blues down the stretch, their playoff seeding dropped to a matchup with the Blackhawks. Would it have been easier playing someone else in the first round?

"We had seven or eight high-end guys out at one time," Blues winger Steve Ott said. "You take seven or eight guys out of any lineup, whether it's the first-place team or last-place team, it's going to be hard to play.

"I'd love to have had a little bit healthier team in the last six games and play somebody else, (instead) of two top teams in the league going at it trying to knock each other off. It's tough to see that in the first round when it should probably be a Western Conference final."

TV records fall

The Blues' Game 6 loss to the Blackhawks on Sunday broke NBC television ratings in both St. Louis and Chicago. It also was the highest-rated NHL playoff game on NBC this season.

The 12.7 rating in St. Louis was the highest for any Blues game ever broadcast on NBC, while Chicago also shattered its previous record with a whopping 17.2 rating.

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or follow him on Twitter: @NormSanders

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